Resource: How To Use Storytelling to Lead Cities & Their People

“Stories can challenge, inspire and motivate us. They can open our minds up to new experiences, ideas and concepts. Words have such power that they can help us to understand the world in which we live or imagine the world we would like to create.”

Editor’s Note: The following forward by Marc Ott, ICMA executive director and former city manager of Austin, Texas, explores why storytelling is an imperative for local government leaders in connecting to and engaging with citizens and others. Review and download Storytellers in Chief below.

In spite of the superlative public trust they enjoy, local governments face the same crisis of confidence plaguing democratic institutions across the globe. As local government managers, we must find reliable ways to overcome the caustic discord emblematic of our time and bring people together to support their communities. Doing our jobs effectively has always meant embracing the tools to connect with our colleagues, elected officials and constituents as people, and those tools are more important now than ever.

Storytelling is among the most powerful tools to accomplish this.

Storytelling is an essential way for public managers to leverage the fundamental humanity of government for community ends. Group identity, from family to neighborhood to nation, can often be defined by mutually treasured stories. Only food and language rival the ability of stories to bring people together. A lack of understanding is often the culprit behind apparent disagreement. This can be difficult to overcome, especially with the rise of the “attention economy,” which thrusts our essential messaging into competition with entertainment, advertising, communications technology and other media.

We must work harder than ever not only to keep our colleagues and communities informed but interested. Bringing ideas to life with stories that are understandable and repeatable can often mean the difference between apathy and agreement.

To do our jobs effectively, we must recognize that our work begins rather than ends with fulfilling our professional commitments to objectivity and ethical leadership. Storytellers in Chief can help us embrace the role beyond our bedrock commitments and face the myriad challenges of our time. It will prove to be an essential tool for local government managers to better connect with stakeholders and continue to set the example of civility and efficacy.

ICMA is grateful to Mike Bennett and Kevin Orr for producing this timely and important research and to Solace and Canadian Association Municipal Administrators (CAMA) for helping us to support it.

Review and download Storytelling:

Storytellers in Chief v5 1-04-19 by Ed Praetorian on Scribd

About ICMA

ICMA, the International City/County Management Association, advances professional local government worldwide. The organization’s mission is to create excellence in local governance by developing and fostering professional management to build sustainable communities that improve people’s lives. ICMA provides member support, ethics education and enforcement, publications, data and information, peer and results-oriented assistance, and training and professional development to appointed city, town, and county leaders and other individuals and organizations throughout the world.

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About the author


EfficientGov Staff

EfficientGov is an independent information service providing innovative solutions to fiscal and operational challenges facing cities and towns around the world.